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Giants' fortunes riding on Pagan's iffy health

Center fielder's back problems resurface at inopportune time

PHOENIX -- The bad news for the Giants came just before the start of Monday night's game against the D-backs at Chase Field. Center fielder Angel Pagan could barely make it through batting practice, and after consulting with manager Bruce Bochy and head athletic trainer Dave Groeschner, he was scratched from the lineup because of a stiff back.

"It's been worse the last couple of three days," Pagan said. "It's been pretty sore. It was tight, really tight. I've just been battling. There was nothing more that I could do."

It has been the tale of two very distinct seasons for the Giants -- with and without Pagan in the lineup -- and that pattern held fast as San Francisco's hopes of winning the National League West continued to fade with a 6-2 loss.

The Giants are 56-34 (.672) with Pagan in the lineup and 26-34 (.433) without him. And so, here we are with 12 games left to play.

"He makes a big difference, the numbers show that," Bochy said. "If you look at the evidence, we miss him when he's not in the lineup. We're a different club. He's our leadoff hitter. He's our catalyst. He's the guy who kind of makes things go. When he's not in there, we've had a tough time, tougher than you would think, actually. But for some reason, the numbers are a lot different when he's not in our lineup."

To that point, Pagan missed 44 games earlier in the season because of the back problems and the Giants squandered a huge lead over the Dodgers. They led by as many as 10 games on June 8 and now find themselves trailing the Blue Boys -- who won big in Colorado on Monday night -- by four games. Even a spot in the NL Wild Card Game is hardly secure.

Despite the loss, the Giants still own the top NL Wild Card slot and have a 2 1/2-game lead over the Pirates. The Brewers are 1 1/2 games behind the Bucs, four behind the Lads.

The Giants, who pulled within one game of the Dodgers with a 9-0 home win over them Friday night, have suddenly lost three in a row at a most inauspicious time of the season.

With Brandon Belt having come off the disabled list before Monday night's game, the question is how long it will take Pagan to return. Bochy said that with a day of rest and treatment, he hoped Pagan might be ready to go Tuesday night. Pagan, who wore a packaged heating pad around his waist and under his shirt as he left the clubhouse, wasn't so sure.

"Do I feel better after treatment? No," Pagan said. "It's tough to say tonight, but let's see how I feel tomorrow. Tomorrow I hope to have a better answer for you."

San Francisco has two games remaining here before heading off for three-game sets in San Diego and Los Angeles, and at this juncture, it's imperative the Giants win those games. For a number of reasons, they have a much better shot at it if Pagan is playing.

For example, San Francisco is 11-6 against Arizona this season and Pagan has been a major component of that success. The switch-hitter has hit safely in all 10 games he's played against the D-backs, soaring along at .488 (21-for-43) with 11 runs scored. Pagan is 8-for-19 (.421) in four games this season at Chase Field, three victories in a season-opening series here from March 31-April 3. In contrast, late replacement Juan Perez went 0-for-5 in the leadoff spot Monday night.

Pagan knows the score, but right now he says he's trying not to be frustrated about it.

"Oh, there's nothing you can do when you can't play," Pagan said. "I always try to go out there and do my best, but today it was just one of those days when I needed a break. Not only is your body tight, but your mind gets drained when you're playing for so long like this. I go out there and play hard. What you see is what you get."

It's not as if the Giants haven't been down this road before. In 2012, after signing Pagan as a free agent, he played in 154 games and was the catalyst as San Francisco won the World Series for the second time in three years. Last season, replete with a new four-year, $40 million contract, Pagan was able to play in only 71 games because of a hamstring injury. The Giants finished 10 games under .500 and 16 games behind the division-winning Dodgers.

The Giants are 82-68 right now, with no chance of that piece of history repeating itself. But they obviously need Pagan, who has had a major impact on the team's success, to complete the route back to the postseason.

"Well, he does have that kind of impact," Bochy said. "That's why we signed him to this deal because of the talent that he is and what he brings to our club. He's a great leadoff hitter and a clutch hitter. Losing your leadoff hitter is one of the tougher ones to make a adjustment to. You hate to miss any of your players. It's no point, really, to think about what's going to happen. We have to overcome it."

They have less than two weeks to do so.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.
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